COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The worst injury nightmare Ohio State could ever imagine finally arrived.
The Buckeyes made do without a starter in the defensive secondary for weeks, and recently they covered up for a broken leg at linebacker by shuffling the personnel and leaning heavily on the offense. For most of the season the rushing game has thrived even with the projected starter at running back on the shelf, and even after losing its leading receiver during the game, the passing attack didn't really suffer much of a drop-off against Purdue.
But late in the third quarter, the guy who has carried a seemingly imperfect team through all that adversity and dragged it to a perfect record was on the turf at a silent Ohio Stadium surrounded by trainers. Even the bad dream Ohio State was living as quarterback Braxton Miller was jammed to the turf and eventually carted off the field with an apparent head injury couldn't keep the Buckeyes from yet another win, though, as it rallied to an improbable 29-22 victory over the Boilermakers in overtime on Saturday.
But that certainly doesn't mean Ohio State would be in a hurry to try its luck without him for a full four quarters moving forward, no matter how heroic Kenny Guiton might be off the bench.
"Some of the efforts I saw tonight were legendary," Meyer said. "That was a moment that I certainly will never forget, the quarterback jogging in the game, the right-hander, he just did a heck of a job.
"But right now we're on fumes as far as special teams and certain positions. We've got to regroup fast and have to get a lot better."
The Buckeyes are without question at their best when Miller is taking the snaps, and according to a school spokesperson, he was ultimately released by doctors as "symptom free" after passing examinations of his shoulders, neck and head on Saturday evening.
But given the clear pain he was in before getting on a cart behind the bench and then taking a ride in an ambulance after that, it certainly remains a possibility that Ohio State could have to find a way to win another game without the sophomore if it is going to run the table, win a division trophy and perhaps make a case for an AP national championship. Ohio State is ineligible for the Big Ten title or a bowl game this season because of NCAA sanctions.
Guiton handled the offense with incredible poise in the most dire of circumstances against Purdue. Stagnant for much of the game even with Miller on the field, the offense had just 47 seconds and no timeouts to drive 61 yards for a touchdown -- and still needed a two-point conversion after that to force an extra session. The junior delivered on both accounts and drove the Buckeyes in for the winning score in the first overtime period, but even his first extended appearance leading the offense was for just a quarter.
If for some reason Miller is limited heading into practice this week, the Buckeyes could need Guiton for much more than that on the road against Penn State -- though the coaching staff doesn't appear to have any issues with handing him the keys if it becomes a necessity.
"Obviously he's not nearly the dynamic runner that Braxton is, he's got a little less zip on his ball," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "He does a really good job managing the game, protections, all that stuff, and you just try to figure out what he does well and you do it throughout practice.
"There's not a whole lot [of difference] in the run game, save for some of the quarterback runs. Kenny is elusive, but he's certainly not Braxton."
When the Buckeyes needed him to do his best Miller impression, though, Guiton made sure there was one more celebration for them to attend in the south end zone when his work was done.
Ohio State's nightmare was over. The dream of a perfect season isn't.